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Eye On Boise

9th Circuit tosses closed-primary appeal

An appeal by independents of the federal court decision declaring Idaho's open primary unconstitutional has been tossed out by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which said it's moot, now that Idaho's changed its election laws and allowed for a closed GOP primary election this spring, in which only registered Republicans will be allowed to vote. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Appellate court tosses Idaho closed primary appeal

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says an appeal over Idaho's new closed GOP primary election system is moot.
In the decision handed down earlier this week, the appellate court said that since Idaho lawmakers have changed the election laws, both the appeal and the original lawsuit brought by the Idaho Republican Party are without legal significance.
The case began two years ago when GOP leaders, worried that crossover voting was producing Republican candidates who fail to hew closely enough to the party line, sued the state in federal court. They contended that only the registered GOP faithful should be allowed to vote in Republican primary elections.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed, saying that forcing the party to hold open primaries violates their right to free association. Winmill declared the open primary system unconstitutional, but the Committee for a United Independent Party appealed, saying that left Independent voters without a voice in the primaries.
Shortly after Winmill's ruling, however, Idaho lawmakers changed state election laws to close the GOP primaries. As a result, the appellate court said on Monday that both the appeal and the original lawsuit are moot. Accordingly, Winmill dismissed the case in its entirety Wednesday.
Gary Allen, the attorney representing the Committee for a United Independent Party, said his clients were still deciding whether to ask the three-judge appellate panel to reconsider their decision or whether to ask for a larger selection of 9th Circuit judges to review the case.
"It certainly was very disappointing," Allen said of the ruling Thursday. "I think it places the political parties in a place that the founders never intended and takes political power away from the voters where it ought to be. ... Having a closed primary, particularly on the Republican side in Idaho, denies Independents the right to vote in an election that very often is the only one that counts."
Rod Beck, a former state senator who was one of the main proponents of the switch to closed primaries, said the appellate ruling was what he expected.
"Of course we're very pleased. The Legislature acted appropriately and addressed the controversy, so there was nothing for the courts to decide," Beck said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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